A powerful explosion at a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip has killed five children. The Palestinian children were on their way to an elementary school in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip when the explosion occurred.
Palestinian security officials say one of the children apparently touched an unexploded Israeli tank shell, setting off the blast. Witnesses say the explosion was so powerful it tore apart the children, and body parts were scattered over the area. Charred backpacks and schoolbooks were strewn amid the rubble.
Palestinian officials earlier charged the Israeli army with firing tank shells at the camp Thursday, but later withdrew the accusation. The Khan Yunis refugee camp has been the scene of frequent fighting between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers guarding a nearby Jewish settlement.
In the West Bank Israeli forces entered an Arab suburb of Jerusalem, shutting down offices of the Palestinian Authority. The army says the offices, which had been used by Palestinian security services, were closed to prevent what it called "terrorist activity." In another raid, Israeli soldiers entered the Palestinian village of Bir Zeit near the West Bank city of Ramallah, arresting supporters of Islamic militant groups.
The incidents occurred as U.S. envoys are set to travel to the region to help establish a cease-fire and move both sides toward peace talks. President Bush is sending State Department envoy William Burns and retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni to work with Israel and the Palestinians to end nearly 14 months of bloodshed.
In a major policy address earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined the Bush administration's ideas for ending the conflict and bringing peace to the Middle East. Mr. Powell called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to make a 100 percent effort to reduce the violence and said Israel must end its occupation and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is scheduled to travel to Washington early next month for meetings with President Bush and other top U.S. officials.